​'The Tinder Swindler' Is A Reminder That Finding Love Online Can Be Great But Scary As Hell​

You never know when someone you meet online will ask you to help escape their enemies

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'The Tinder Swindler' Is A Reminder That Finding Love Online Can Be Great But Scary As Hell​

'The Tinder Swindler' Is A Reminder That Finding Love Online Can Be Great But Scary As Hell

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.

This Opinion article is part of a Narcity Media series. The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.

As a casual browser of the human catalogue that is Tinder, I find myself constantly being very wary of the person I’m interacting with. I’ve seen way too many episodes of Catfish and films like The Tinder Swindler to fill my mind with paranoia and uncertainty about online dating and potential scams.

I watch shows like Catfish to quench my thirst for over-the-top reality TV drama, but it’s also inadvertently become one big cautionary tale for me about meeting people in online spaces.

While that was my source for cautionary tales in the past (and horror dating app stories shared online), it feels like I’ve been encountering a whole new budding genre of media known as “wild shit that happens when you choose to online date.”

To be fair, wild shit can happen in any dating environment — online or not. But, online/app-based dating should obviously be accompanied by a feeling of mystery because online spaces are themselves a vast unknown entity.

I know I get nervous about anyone I’ve ever met up with for a date from an app: is he going to look like his pictures? Is he going to be a creep? Is he going to murder me with an axe?

I’ve actually been fairly lucky and haven’t run into a catfish or an axe murderer. However, the fear is always there, and seeing these types of shows reminds me it’s out there more than a lot of us would like to admit when we’re mindlessly swiping.

When it comes to this genre, are we to take it as entertainment or internalize the message and allow it to caution us?

One streaming series in this genre is the latest Netflix doc, The Tinder Swindler.

To catch you up to speed, if you have somehow not watched the doc or missed the copious amounts of online discourse, The Tinder Swindler follows the scams of Israeli con man Shimon Hayut, better known as Simon Leviev.

As the story goes, Leviev scammed nearly $10 million from his connections. Some of these people he worked for, others were friends, but some were also women he had “romantic relationships” with via Tinder. This doc follows three women whom Leviev scammed out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Wild shit, indeed.

Since Netflix really wouldn’t let you avoid playing this film, most of my friends had seen it, and many of us were already talking about how absurd it all was. Sure, we’ve seen Catfish and 90 Day Fiance (which have their own fair share of scam relationships that originated online), but this was another level of absurdity. We had to vent about it. One thought that always seemed to come up in conversation was — "Couldn’t be me."

It’s a similar feeling when I’m watching a show like Catfish, like there is no way anybody is catching me in this dumb shit, ever. But isn’t that how a cautionary tale is supposed to resonate? To make you realize this is a situation you never want to be in?

The thought of “couldn’t be me” feels both right and wrong. It feels wrong because I don’t intend to blame victims of a career criminal. But it feels right because, realistically, I’ve been fending off scams from a young age as many of us have been. From avoiding email scams of the early 2000s and yelling at people trying to scam my grandmother on the phone to avoiding people in my DMs on Instagram asking me to send them back a link — scams are all around us. Some of us get trapped, and some of us fight daily to not fall victim to it all.

So while we see these cautionary tales and maybe don’t relate, it’s just that extra warning we need to keep a distance.

Little Red Riding Hood was one of the first cautionary tales many of us were familiar with. A little girl walks alone through the forest to visit her grandmother and runs into a weirdo wolf along the way.

Obviously, none of us are meeting a wolf on any regular day, and today’s standards date the setting. However, the story still allows you to analyze it from a removed perspective and think, “Okay, I see this, acknowledge this and wouldn’t do this.”

While The Tinder Swindler was an interesting watch, it reminded me of another instance in which I felt like I was being warned of the dangerous possibilities of online spaces and dating — an earlier piece of content for this genre of “wild shit that happens when you choose to online date.” It was a podcast released late last year known as Sweet Bobby.

The story follows Harkirat Assi, a radio presenter living in the U.K. who began a friendship via Facebook with a man who shared some mutual friends. Eventually, after several years, the friendship turned into a romance and, spoiler alert: it was her younger cousin, Simran, catfishing her for 10 years!

While monetary loss was not present in Sweet Bobby, there was an emotional sense of fraud happening. And still, the discourse around that podcast also seemed to be, "welp, couldn’t be me."

But the people that were doing all the catfishing and scamming in these shows and podcasts were emotionally and mentally abusing these women while taking full advantage of the access that was granted to them.

It’s not just about pointing out that it "could never be me," but that abusive and manipulative characters manifest in all different types of ways, on all different types of platforms.

I know there exists a world where beautiful romances have started online under seemingly sketchy circumstances. People have gotten married and had amazing families. Some have started wonderful friendships with people from online communities and created meaningful connections. So I don’t think we need to deem every online interaction as dangerous, but we do need to be aware of the fact that there are people with bad intentions that make up a great deal of the internet.

You never know when someone you meet online will ask you to help escape their enemies, but when that day comes, we should remember these stories as red flags to run far away from so we can swiftly reply with — "Damn, that’s crazy."

…Just before hitting "block contact" and moving on.

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